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PGA DFS: Horse For The Course - Desert Classic

Hi and welcome back RotoBallers! The Sony Open didn't provide the same final-round fireworks that we saw at the Sentry TOC, as Matt Kuchar's tremendous play down the stretch secured a fairly stress-free victory at Waialae Country Club. It was Kuchar's second win in just a couple of months and he will be a player we need to keep an eye on in 2019. Unbelievably, the longtime fan favorite was a topic of some Twitter controversy over the weekend when some rumors started to swirl around the amount he paid to a local caddy after his Mayakoba win in the fall.

Ok, enough gossip, let's turn our attention to the business at hand this week, the Desert Classic. Formerly known as the CareerBuilder Challenge, this tournament throws some curveballs at us. Players will play rounds on three different golf courses this week before a 54-hole cut is made. This will be a pretty big departure from the normal 36-hole cut that takes place after players play the same course for two rounds. We will also be dealing with the weakest field we have seen in 2019. Defending champion Jon Rahm is back and will be joined by Justin Rose, who is making his first start of 2019, Phil Mickelson, and rising star Patrick Cantlay. There isn't much "star power" after the quartet of headliners. This is honestly a pretty tough week from a DFS perspective, which will force us to both dig deep into our research process and perhaps roster some players that don't normally find their way into our DFS lineups.

I try to make HFTC more than just a "picks" column (though you can certainly use it that way if you are in a hurry) by digging deep into each highlighted player. Obviously, our weekly jumping off point is a player's course history, but there isn't a firm set of rules when it comes to who is featured in this article. My goal is to help you succeed as a PGA DFS player. Period. I will touch on different GPP and cash-game strategies throughout the column each week and hopefully have some useful info for both beginners and experienced DFS players. Thanks for joining me here at RotoBaller, let's tee it up!

Editor's Note: Our friends at Fantasy National have built some incredible DFS Golf lineup tools including a Lineup Optimizer, Stat Engine, Ownership Projections and Course Breakdowns. They are by far the best daily fantasy Golf tools in the industry. Seriously. You can read all about them here and see screenshots.  Sign Up Now!

You can also find out who the smart money is on by checking out Spencer Aguiar's PGA DFS: Vegas Report every week.

Editor's Note: Our friends at Fantasy National have built some incredible DFS Golf lineup tools including a Lineup Optimizer, Stat Engine, Ownership Projections and Course Breakdowns. They are by far the best daily fantasy Golf tools in the industry. Seriously. You can read all about them here and see screenshots. 

Sign Up Now!


The Course: TPC Stadium Course at PGA West - Par 72 - 7,113 Yards

Players will also play rounds on the Nicklaus Tournament and La Quinta Country Club courses. The "main" course for the Desert Classic will be the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West. Players will face the Stadium Course once in the first three rounds and again in the final round if they make the 54-hole cut.

Frustratingly, Shotlink data is not available on the Nicklaus or La Quinta courses, which sort of has us flying blind from a DFS statistical perspective. The TPC is a Pete Dye design and in typical Dye fashion, there is tons of water and sand in play throughout the course.

The Stadium Course traditionally plays much tougher than the other two tracks in the rotation and players will face a difficult closing stretch that includes a 20-feet deep bunker on Hole 16, the infamous "Alcatraz hole" at 17, and a par-4 18th that is lined with water. The three-course rotation makes this a volatile tournament. I'm targeting strong ball strikers who I hope will gain strokes both off the tee and on approach this week. Nine of the last 10 Desert Classic have played at least one of the Hawaiian events, so I will lean toward players that have been active in the last two weeks.


The Horse

Chez Reavie (DraftKings - $9,200 & FanDuel - $9,800 )

Notable Course History: T36 (2018), T12 ('17), T17 ('16), MC ('15)
Recent Form: T3 (Sony), T26 (Mayakoba), T35 (WGC-HSBC)'s that kind of week guys, I'm waving the Chez Reavie flag. You don't need me to tell you that the trio of Rahm, Rose, and Cantlay are head and shoulders above the rest of this field, so I didn't want to waste time telling you something you already know this week. If you can fit 'em, play 'em when it comes to those three.

Outside of the three musketeers, we're forced to make some tough decisions at the top of the salary scale. Inflated pricing (especially on DK) is taking us out of our comfort zone in a big way this week. We normally aren't looking to pay $9,200 for a player of Chez Reavie's caliber. That's not a knock on Reavie, but he's a player we're used to seeing in the mid-$7k range for most events. However, Reavie has been playing at a high-level during the swing season and we saw him play extremely well in Hawaii last week.

Reavie put on an absolute stripe show at the Sony, gaining an unbelievable 13 strokes tee-to-green, good for first in the field. He was unconscious with his irons, ranking second in SG: Approach. While those numbers are unsustainable, they aren't necessarily flukey. Over his last 24 rounds, Reavie grades out 14th in SG: Ball Striking and third in SG: Approach in the Desert Classic field.

Reavie's undoing last week and over the last several months, has been an ice cold putter. He managed a T3 at the Sony last week despite finishing 50th in Strokes Gained: Putting. If this guy just putts bad last week instead of horrible, he probably wins the tournament...that's how well he's striking the ball right now.

In addition to Reavie's hot ball striking, he has a track record of solid performances in the Desert Classic, making the cut in his last three appearances. At $9,200 on DK we are looking for more than a made cut from Reavie, but he has shown the ability to rack up DK points in bunches. Of the players in this field, he trails only Justin Rose in DK points over his last 24 rounds.

As I've mentioned several times, lineup construction is tricky this week. Those of you that want to go the "solid" route can start you lineups with Reavie on DK. He is laughably cheap on FD at only $9,800...receiving just a $400 increase after last week's performance, so he's an auto-play for me over there.


The Ponies

Adam Hadwin (DK - $10,000 & FD - $10,700 )

Notable Course History: T3 (2018), 2nd ('17), T6 ('16)
Recent Form: T57 (Sony), T10 (Mayakoba), T30 (WGC-HSBC), T10 (CJ Cup)

I usually start the research process for this article over the weekend, but I don't actually start writing until DK prices are posted. I have to admit...I'm still suffering from sticker shock when it comes to Adam Hadwin. During my weekend research all signs pointed to Hadwin being this week's you can see from the header he has ELITE course history at this event and he showed some flashes of his former upside during the swing season, logging two top-10 finishes. I was prepared for inflated, out-of-whack DFS pricing this week and knew Hadwin would get a salary bump due to his course history (Hadwin shot 59 here two years ago), but DAMN! $10k and $10.7k???

Ok, I had to take a couple of deep breaths after typing that. I felt like a had to bump Hadwin down to the Pony category due to those massive prices, despite loving where he is heading into this tournament. Hadwin has been one of those guys that has dropped in and out of my DFS lineups over the last couple of years. It seems like a couple of years ago he found his way into my lineups on an almost weekly basis, but as his play became more erratic I haven't rostered him much lately. He's proven to be streaky in recent years, but the Canadian is in the midst of his best stretch of golf since last spring.

Hadwin will never be confused with the best iron players on Tour, but he's been consistently gaining strokes both Off the Tee and Putting, two areas that are of significance this week and have led to him standing 11th in this week's field in Strokes Gained: Total over his last 36 rounds.

His price has admittedly thrown me for a loop, but I suspect that will be the case for lots of folks that were eyeing Hadwin for this tournament. If anything, his price tags should depress ownership and actually make him a great large-field GPP target, as I think lots of people won't be able to pull the trigger on him at this price after an underwhelming performance in the Sony. Despite the salary, his combination of course history and play during the fall should put him on your short list of players to consider this week.


Hudson Swafford (DK - $8,300 & FD - $8,200)

Notable Course History: T29 (2018), Win ('17), T56 ('16)
Recent Form: T3 (Sony), T76 (RSM), T55 (Mayakoba)

Let me get it out of the way and say that Hudson Swafford is ridiculously cheap over on Fan Duel. It's one of those double-edged sword situations...he's so cheap at just $8,200 that it's hard not to auto-play him, but he's also so cheap that he will garner MASSIVE ownership. He's more appropriately priced on DraftKings, but after looking at Hadwin and Reavie, Swafford's price tag seems downright reasonable on DK. Like our two previous selections, we normally aren't excited to pay this much for Swafford, but he's an intriguing mid-range target for the Desert Classic.

This is a case of a player's current form and course history colliding at the right time. Swafford heads to the desert fresh off a T3 performance in last week's Sony Open, where he fired four sub-70 rounds, including a blistering Sunday 64. The breakout might have seemed to come out of nowhere, but Swafford quietly had a solid fall. He logged top-30 finishes at both the Sanderson Farms and Shriners. Swafford is a streaky player that has trouble getting all facets of his game working at the same time. He has stretches where his putting is lights out, but the ball striking isn't there or vice versa. It's promising to see that he gained strokes across the board at the Sony last week. Swafford ranked top-five in the Sony field in SG: T2G and Approach, while also picking up a shade over two strokes on the field putting.

His sharp play in Hawaii would probably put Swafford on our radar regardless, but a nice little bonus is how well the former Georgia Bulldog has played in the desert. Swafford took home the title in 2017 and put up a solid defense last year, logging a T29. He made the cut in 2016, missed the cut in 2015, and notched a T25 in 2014. That's what passes consistency when we are talking about Hudson Swafford.

Ok, back to lineup construction and what to do with Swafford on FD. Though I like Swafford this week, I would never consider him a "can't miss, slam-dunk play" in any tournament, as he's just too streaky. That being said, if you are playing higher-dollar or single-entry tournaments he's basically a lock-button play. I can understand fading him in large-field GPPs from a game-theory standpoint, as he may very well be over 50% owned in lots of tournaments.


Joaquin Niemann (DK - $7,600 & FD - $10,400)

Notable Course History: None
Recent Form: T65 (RSM), T60 (Mayakoba), T10 (Shriners), T36 (CJ Cup)

Course history? We don't need no stinkin' course history! Yeah, this is one of those times when I go completely off script and tell you about my interest in a guy that has never played the course. While I generally use course history as the foundation of my player selections, I just can't ignore Joaquin Niemann this week.

Niemann's DFS pricing for the Desert Classic is sorta the opposite of Hudson Swafford's. Niemann is too expensive on FD, but way too cheap on DK. In a week of $10k Adam Hadwin, I'll take all the $7.6k Niemann I can get. Niemann has the 31st highest salary on DK and it's not a stretch to say that he's one of the top-five most talented players in this weak field.

When I say Niemann is one of the top-five talents in this field, it's not hyperbole. The stats back up the youngster's upside. If we compare the last 50 rounds (a fairly large sample size) of the players in the Desert Classic field, Niemann's output is somewhat staggering. He ranks first in the field in both SG: Ballstriking and SG: Approach, second in SG: Tee to Green and Off the Tee, sixth in SG: Total, and seventh in DK Points Scored. Niemann's downside lies in his short game...where he ranks just 86th in SG: Putting and 123rd in SG: Around the Green.

I'm trying to target players that played at least once in Hawaii and Niemann didn't...but in his case that might not necessarily be a bad thing. After a whirlwind rookie season on the PGA Tour, the 20-year-old appeared to be running on fumes in his last couple of swing season appearances. He should be rested and recharged this week. Niemann isn't a bad GPP contrarian play on FD, where his high price should hugely depress his ownership. He will be more popular on DK, but he's a "bet on talent & price" play that I'm firing up this week.


Si Woo Kim (DK - $7,400 & FD - $9,200)

Notable Course History: T9 (2016)
Recent Form: MC (Sony), T26 (Mayakoba), T15 (Shriners)

Similarly to Niemann, I'm slightly surprised to see a player of Si Woo Kim's caliber in the mid-$7k price range on DK. Unlike Niemann, Kim has some history in the Desert Classic, he had a strong T9 outing in his only appearance in 2016.

Despite having only one start in this tournament, I'm willing to give Kim credit for his success on other Pete Dye courses. He became the youngest Players champion in history in 2017, when he won on the legendary Dye layout at just 21-years-old. Using the unbelievable research engine at Fantasy National, we can narrow down Kim's specific results on Pete Dye courses and the results are eye-popping. When compared to this week's field, over his last 24 rounds on Pete Dye courses, Kim ranks first in SG: Tee to Green, SG: Total, and SG: Around the Green. He is also sixth in DK Points Scored.

The knock on Kim is that he is maddeningly erratic. True to form, he was trunk-slamming at last week's Sony Open after a really solid fall season. I'm willing to chalk last week's outing up to "knocking the rust off" after a winter break. I would not be surprised if Kim is in contention this week...but it also wouldn't be a huge shocker if he's cut after 54 holes. Despite his record of inconsistency and young age, Kim can almost be classified as a "Dye specialist" at this point in his career. He doesn't come without risk, but this isn't a slate with a lot of safety available. Like Niemann, Kim has the talent to win this tournament and is a tremendous GPP option.

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